The name ‘Vatican’ dates back pre-Christ, with land across the Tiber river having been nominated thus at least by the time of the Roman Republic. The area was already considered sacred at this time, with Pagan altars, monuments and tombs having been placed here.
Over time, it became a popular area also amongst Christians and indeed, St Peter visited the area upon his arrival to Rome.
St Peter was considered the first Pope of the Catholic Church. He was eventually crucified as a martyr on the Vatican site around 64-67. At around this time, his role was assumed by Pope Linus. Whilst the role and function has evolved somewhat over time, today Pope Francis is the 266th Pope to rule over the Christian state of Vatican City.
From the time of St Peter’s arrival, we have the formation of the Holy See, the jurisdictional and governing body of the Catholic Church. A few decades later, in the early 300s, the area saw the construction of St Peter’s Basilica.
Eventually the Vatican City site grew to house more power and more property. Popes accumulated additional territories, establishing Papal States in various parts of Italy and beyond. They took on secular political positions in the Roman government, battled wars over land disputes and managed to accumulate great wealth and power.
The ruling Popes did not always have their residence at the Vatican City however, living instead in other Roman palaces and even in Avignon, France, for some decades.
Upon unification under the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, Pius IX returned to lay claim to the Vatican State lands. All satellite territories within the peninsula fell to the Kingdom of Italy, as the Holy See ceded all bar Vatican City.
And here arose the great “Roman question”.
In essence, the Roman Question was a debate about what - if any - of the enclave within Rome was to be held by the Holy See and what was to fall under the command of the Kingdom of Italy. To maintain hold on the Vatican City property, Popes and other clergy remained holed up inside for 59 years until the questione romana was answered
In 1929, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty, ratified as an agreement to settle the political dispute that arose after the unification of Italy in 1861.
Whilst all secular power the Pope had held was lost, the Vatican State was recognised as the sovereign territory of the Holy See. The Holy See has "full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" over Vatican City State.
Today, Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world, with a population of less than 850 people living in a space of just 44 hectares. Most Vatican City inhabitants are Catholic clergy from around the world.
Predominantly due to lack of space within the Vatican City walls, foreign embassies to the Vatican are located throughout Rome, although some were permitted within the walls during World War II.
Inside the Vatican City walls is the Vatican Museums, showcasing artworks accumulated by the church. The Vatican Museums collection dates back to the early 1500s and is today number five on the list of the world’s most visited museums of art.
The first piece added to the Vatican Museum collection was an excavated sculpture, Laocoön and His Sons, that likely dated back to 27 BC and 68 AD, unearthed in Rome in 1506 before being placed on display as the Vatican Museums first artwork just one month later.
Two years later, Michelangelo commenced the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. Around the same time, Raphael was commissioned to work on the Stanze della Segnatura.
Today, the Vatican Museums house 54 galleries showcasing some of the world’s most precious artworks.
Vatican City has its own economy, earning income from ticket sales to the Vatican Museum, the selling of publications and souvenirs, as well as official Vatican postage stamps and even commemorative coins from its own currency.
The Vatican City has its own communications services (including its own radio station), as well as health and security departments.